Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stickup In Upper Darby

Hi Bill

Life in retirement provides lots of time for relaxation and contemplation. It also provides lots of time for yard work and other chores if we feel like doing that. However, most of all it seems to demand lots of time for memories, both good and bad. I try to focus on good memories, or at least those that have good or neutral outcomes. Today another memory from the early 1970s about life in the big city bubbled to the surface.

When Pat and I were living on Chester Avenue in Philadelphia, a friend of ours lived in the Upper Darby area and we came to like that area bordering West Philadelphia in Delaware County, PA. It was just 2.8 miles from Center City (downtown Philadelphia). The area had a diverse and appealing downtown shopping area with lots of restaurants, deli’s, etc. So we enjoyed exploring it often, especially the eateries. Sometimes we drove there and sometimes we took public transportation. The western terminus of the SEPTA mass transit system is located in Upper Darby providing easy commuting between there and Philadelphia. 

One Saturday afternoon in 1973, a visit to an Upper Darby delicatessen turned out to be quite frightening. Pat and I were enjoying some great sandwiches at a table along the wall opposite the deli service counter with a few empty tables between us and the counter. We were just relaxing and having a nice conversation at our table. There was nobody else in the place except the owner and his wife who were behind the counter. A young man came in and walked up to the counter, although we didn’t really pay any attention to him. However, life in Pittsburgh and in the neighborhoods while working at DPA (public assistance) in Philadelphia had taught me to take notice of the people around me and what was going on.

Pat was sitting across the table from me and the service counter was to my left and a little behind Pat. We were enjoying our food and Pat needed to refill her drink and began standing up. However, I quickly grabbed Pat’s arm across the table and sharply (but quietly) said: “Sit Down!” She looked at me like I was crazy and started to say something to me, but I interrupted her with: “Sit Down! There is a guy at the counter with a gun! Sit down, and don’t look at him.” Pat quickly sat down, but she did steal a glance at the armed robber. I said: “Just keep looking at me and continue talking like we are having a normal conversation.”  

While we sat at our table trying to act like we were paying no attention to anybody but each other, the robber went behind the counter with the frightened proprietor and his wife. He continued to point the gun at them and made them give him all the cash they had at the counter. However, then he took them into a room behind the counter. We did not hear anything from them while they were in the back room and I was almost ready to run for the door with Pat. However, the perp came out of the room, looked at us briefly and then ran out the door. The entire heist lasted only a few minutes, but it seemed like hours.

Immediately after that the owner and his wife came out of the back room and we met them at the counter. They had not been physically harmed, but they were (of course) very upset. They called the police and we stayed with them and talked to the police when they arrived. Of course the police asked us to tell them what we saw. We tried to do that, but I mostly told them that about the only thing I could remember about the guy was the deadly-looking handgun he was pointing at the owner and his wife. They asked us to describe the culprit and we both tried, but unfortunately, Pat’s description and my description of him did not match. The police kept us there for quite a while asking us questions about what we had witnessed, and it almost seemed like they suspected that we were accessories, although they never really spoke about any such suspicions. Eventually, the police officers told us that we probably did the right thing when we decided to sit at our table and appear to ignore the entire episode, since nobody got physically hurt. Finally the police let us leave and we were grateful to get the hell out of there and very grateful that no one had been injured, although it was quite frightening.

Later we were contacted by a detective and we met with him to try to give him our descriptions of the robber. He also showed us some mugshots, but Pat and I could not really determine that any of the photographs were the guy we saw. Again, I couldn’t remember much about the perpetrator, except the ominous-looking handgun that he held. The detective called us in again to look at some more mugshots and I thought a couple of them resembled the culprit. However, I couldn’t make a definitive identification. The detective was disappointed, but he was not surprised by our inability to identify the criminal. Actually, the police were very patient and treated us with courtesy. They never contacted us again.

Surprisingly, that frightening episode did not stop us from visiting Upper Darby or eating in deli’s again. However, we never returned to that particular establishment, even though the food was very good. In addition, we also decided to eat in establishments that are crowded with customers and avoid those that lacked other witnesses just in case.

However, we believe the perp in the deli was likely one of the following nefarious characters:

Bill, I suppose you get bored with all the random thoughts and memories that I have been writing. However, it seems to be therapeutic for me to put them on paper. I hope you find them at least somewhat interesting or amusing and not too weird.

Take care,

Sincerely Clark

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